An unusual Rivette film. First thing I noticed was that it’s strange to see an in-film performance of a finished play in front of an actual, paying audience. I thought none of his plays-within-a-play ever made it past their planning stages. The characters go about their business in a straightforward way. Minor mysteries from the past crop up, some coincidences seem almost magical, but the weight of the drama never sets in. Even the lighthearted Celine & Julie felt weighty. Finally towards the end (during the drinking duel in the rafters) I accepted that Va Savoir is purely a comedy, and a very fine one.
From the shot above, which is used in the poster art, I’d assumed there’d be more Feuillade influence. People upon Paris rooftops conveys Feuillade, and with Rivette’s ever-present sense of mystery I thought a feature-length homage would be wonderful, but that’s not what we get. Oh well, there’s always Franju’s Judex.
The play performed is the Italian “Come tu mi voui” by Luigi Pirandello, being performed (in Italian) in Paris for a week. I think we see a scene from each night’s performance, each time a different scene, and not in chronological order. They’re probably arranged to comment emotionally upon that day’s off-stage action, but I’ll have to watch it again to be sure (I also missed the on/off-stage connections in Rivette’s previous film Secret Defense). That’s Camille (the lovely, angular Jeanne Balibar, of Don’t Touch the Axe and Comedy of Innocence) in the middle with her lover/director Ugo (Sergio Castellitto of Around a Small Mountain) at left. Their relationship is strained with her return to Paris after three years away, now closer than ever to her long-term ex Pierre, but ultimately they’re good together.
I’m getting out of order here, but Pierre (Jacques Bonnaffé, at right, of Lemming and Prénom Carmen) ultimately duels Ugo over Camille. I was never quite sure if Ugo is a nice guy, since he acts like such an ass when first meeting Pierre, but this clears it up. His dueling method of choice is heavy drinking while standing high in the rafters above the stage, but he repeatedly tells Pierre not to look down because there’s actually a safety net below them. This scene made me extremely happy.
While in Paris, Ugo seeks a lost play by Italian author Goldoni. He checks with an autograph/letter collector (filmmaker Claude Berri), but to no avail. Funny casting a filmmaker in this role, since thirty years earlier Rivette had Eric Rohmer playing a specialist librarian in Out 1.
Ugo bounces to this family, descendants of a friend of Goldoni’s who maintain a library of the playwright’s works. The woman (Catherine Rouvel – oh my god, she’s the always-nude girlfriend of the scheming guy in La Rupture) invites him to stay as long as he likes, but after he can’t find the unpublished play all week, he suspects it was secretly sold by her thieving son Arthur (Bruno Todeschini, at left, of Code Unknown and Haut bas fragile)
Arthur is also meeting secretly with Sonia (Marianne Basler, who costarred with Gabriel Byrne in a WWII drama), coincidentally the live-in girlfriend of Camille’s ex, Pierre. The affair would be harmless but that Arthur steals a precious ring from Sonia, which Camille sleeps with him in order to steal back.
Finally, there’s Arthur’s sister Do (Hélène de Fougerolles of Innocence, maybe in the scene with Edith Scob in Joan the Maid). She helps Ugo search for (and ultimately find) the play, getting ever closer to him as Camille gets closer to her ex (before he locks Camille in a closet). Peace is restored in the end with everyone happy and dancing, the viewer comforted in knowing that the only really crappy character, Arthur, in debt trouble, will soon find out that his stolen ring is gone.
I only noticed this because of the similarly oval-shaped mirror near the end of Out 1:
Reportedly there’s an extended cut called Va Savoir+, but little is known about it besides that it had a one-week run in Paris. A message board posts claimed it “wasn’t even an official director’s cut, just an alternate cut Rivette put together for a few screenings, mostly for himself and the other actors,” so I’m not going to worry too much.
In Va Savoir we are spectators instead of participants. And while there are moments when this pays off rather humorously — take for instance the detective work of finding the missing ring in the flour jar or the duel between the rival male suitors — it falls short of being a top-notch Rivette experience. … there was also the more palpable concept of a theater company producing works that only a few are interested in seeing, accompanied by a quest to find a lost work by an obscure writer… should we be thinking of the oeuvre of anyone in particular?